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Year couldn#039;t come to an end faster for Shula, Tide

We are just a few days away from bidding 2005 a fond farewell and welcoming in a new year.

No one may be more happy that this year is about over than University of Alabama football coach Mike Shula.

The year started off on a whimper and may end with one. The Tide entered 2006 fresh off a loss in the Music City Bowl and the talk was that Alabama needed new offensive and defensive coordinators just so Shula could keep his job.

The powers that be at the University of Alabama had so much confidence in him that they only approved a one-year extension on his contract.

As the year progressed, things began to make an upswing. Alabama had a descent year on the recruiting trail by landing some nice athletes.

Spring practice rolled around and word got out quickly that the Tide's saving grace, Brodie Croyle, was finally healthy.

Tide fans were stirred up in a frenzy because Croyle would be the one to bring Alabama back to prominence. Fans across the state were so bold as to say that this would the Tide's year.

Alabama's defense mixed with a healthy Croyle would only cook up to be a lethal combination to any opponent the Tide would face.

Sounded good. Sounded promising.

Finally the season began and the Tide waded through the schedule unscathed setting up a huge matchup with Florida in Tuscaloosa. This game would determine just how good Alabama was this year.

So on the first play, Croyle hits Tyrone Prothro with a perfect pass for a touchdown.

The route was on, and the Tide came away with an impressive victory.

Only that victory marked the beginning of the end for Alabama.

Prothro was lost for the season with a broken leg. The Tide's playmaker was gone. What would they do?

Alabama lived a charmed life until it played LSU. This game would certainly determine if the Tide was destined to play for the Southeastern Conference title.

Not so.

Alabama tasted defeat for the first time all season and another key cog in the Alabama offensive puzzle was lost for the season. The Tide lost their top offensive lineman to a broken leg.

Alabama still had enough to beat Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, right?

Not so.

To this day Shula and Croyle still have nightmares of Auburn's defensive front swarming Croyle for a sack.

Auburn came away with an impressive win over the Tide, which turned Alabama's dream season into another nightmare.

Alabama now is preparing for its Cotton Bowl opponent, but the internet chat rooms are abuzz over the possibility that up to four key players on the team may not be academically eligible.

It was quite ironic that this story came out, since just a day before it was revealed that Alabama ranked as the worst school in the SEC and the fifth-worst among 119 Division 1-A schools in the country when it came to the graduation rate of football players.

An Alabama official promised that the football team's graduation rate would dramatically rise to at least 50 percent from its dismal 39 percent.

That official may want to rethink those numbers after grades are posted.

It's been a whirlwind year for the University of Alabama, and no one will be more glad to see 2006 end than Shula.

Kevin Taylor is sports editor of The Greenville Advocate. Call him at (334) 382-3111 ext. 122 or e-mail kevin.taylor@greenvilleadvocate.com.